Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Passover, Past & Present

Bill and Shannon Wilson share their most recent experience of leading elementary students at our Downtown Campus in the Passover meal of Seder:

On Palm Sunday morning, my wife Shannon and I led the children at Downtown Camp Grace in a Passover meal. This was a special moment for both of us because of our own experience celebrating the Passover with my stepfather, Hy, who is Jewish. As a result of my Episcopalian mother marrying Hy when I was eight years old, I grew up celebrating a number of Jewish and Christian holidays. I particularly enjoyed the mingling of the two faith traditions in December when I could look forward to presents at both Hanukkah and Christmas. Another ceremony that I enjoyed every year that seemingly had no Christian counterpart was the Passover meal in which Jews all around the world gather with their families to remember the Lord delivering them from slavery in Egypt. The meal and ceremony together are known as the Seder (which means “order”) and bears many similarities to the liturgical worship service I grew up experiencing each Sunday morning. There are readings, songs, Hebrew blessings (always translated into English), wine (juice for the children), bread (matzah), and traditional foods signifying various aspects of the Passover story. The meal incorporates children. The youngest child reads aloud the “four questions,” which inquire into various ways “why this night is different from all other nights.” Also, during the meal, a special piece of matzah known as the afikomen (off-ee-co-men) is hidden. The father brings forth three pieces of matzah and breaks the middle piece in half. One of the halves, the afikomen, is wrapped in linen and hidden in the room for the children to find. At the appropriate time the children search for the afikomen, and the one who finds it returns it to the father for a prize.

Photo of Seder table set for volunteer training.
There also are several traditional foods eaten at particular times during the Seder, each having its own symbolism for the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt. Maror, or bitter herbs (usually horseradish), symbolizes the bitter lives of the Jews in Egypt. Charoset (an apple, nut, and honey mixture) symbolizes the bricks and the clay that the Jews were forced to make for Pharaoh. Karpas, a vegetable (usually parsley), is dipped into salt water to symbolize the tears of the Jews in slavery. Matzah, or unleavened bread, represents the hurriedness with which the Jews left Egypt, not even having time to allow their bread to rise. The four cups of wine represent the four expressions of God’s promise in Exodus 6:6-7 to deliver the Jews from Egypt. And, most importantly, a lamb shank bone represents the lamb that was sacrificed in order for its blood to be placed on the doorframe so that the Lord would pass over the homes of God’s people while carrying out the tenth and final plague – death of the firstborn. Throughout the meal, the Passover story would be told, and the foods would be eaten in ceremonial fashion. There is much more to this meal, but these are the highlights. These meals always felt important as I celebrated them growing up. It is amazing to think how the Jewish people celebrated this same meal for centuries prior to the coming of Christ and continue to celebrate it today, thousands of years later, despite being scattered throughout the world. What came to light as Shannon and I took part in the Grace training for leading the children is how Jesus is intertwined into every aspect of the Seder. Most of us probably see and understand that Jesus was the lamb of God – “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” echoes the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and is stated every week during the Holy Eucharist, or communion, that I celebrated growing up in the Episcopal Church.

It was not until I experienced Passover in preparation for Camp Grace that the full meaning of this amazing ceremony hit home. Weaved throughout the traditional elements of the Passover ceremony is Jesus, our Lord. He is in every moment of a ceremony that far predates his coming. Consider Exodus 12, which required the Jews to bring an unblemished lamb into their homes on the tenth day of the month of Nisan (with the Passover occurring on the fourteenth day). Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the tenth day of Nisan, and then celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples on the fourteenth day, which we now call the Last Supper. As he celebrated this Passover meal, he knew that he was the unblemished sacrificial lamb, and he used the very elements of the Passover meal to signify his body and blood, which we now partake of when we celebrate communion. Also consider how the matzah is striped and pierced. Jesus was striped with whips and pierced with a spear. Also, recall how the center piece of three pieces of matzah is broken, wrapped in cloth, hidden away for a little while, and brought back out later. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was broken, wrapped in linen, hidden in a tomb for a little while, and then rose from the grave. And even more amazing is that the name of this hidden piece of matzah, afikomen, is a Greek word that can be translated as “He came.” We now see the full meaning of this aspect of the ceremony. Also consider how Exodus 12:46 commanded that the bones of the lamb to be sacrificed must not be broken. And John 19:36 tells us that none of Jesus’ bones were broken. And finally, at the time of judgment in Exodus, God looked for the blood of the lamb in order to pass over. Similarly, at the time of the final judgment, God will look only for the blood of Jesus the lamb.

The parallels are stunning and reveal the creativity and awesome power of a God who is sovereign and working throughout history to tell his story. The story has always been about Jesus. And it was this story, through a traditional meal that is thousands of years old, that we were able to teach the children of Camp Grace about God’s deliverance – both the deliverance from Egypt of the Jews and more importantly the deliverance from their sin of those who trust in Jesus.

- Bill Wilson, Camp Grace Volunteer, Downtown Campus

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Trystan Sings - The Value of Families Worshiping Together

Ryan Donell, Grace Student Ministry staff, reflects on a recent worship service with his six month old son.  What a great reminder of the value of families worshiping together and what can been learned at all ages through worshiping together.

I’m watching God shape my son through the community of Grace Church.

Every day it seems like I uncover some new fear or weakness in myself that I don’t want to pass on to my son. Then I think of the biological fact that he already has my DNA! So, it’s too late in some ways. He’s already got a mixture of his mother’s and my strengths- and weaknesses. I mean, is it really too much to ask for a perfect son?

One of the ugly things I’ve uncovered is the fact that I want my son to be more than a son. I want him to be a god! Not literally of course. I’ve just realized in me the desire for him to hold a position of glory, which no human being can substantiate. That’s where I’ve needed the story of Jesus to inform and reorient my emotions.

Trystan is fallen. He’s fallen because of me. And he will fall because of me. But when he does, God loves him through me, and I can be a resource of grace and emblem of God’s love to him. That’s how it has to work. And this is actually the best way for it to work.

Photo by Sabrina Fields
While I swim in the middle of those tensions, I’m reassured by something Jesus has put in place for us: the Church. Jesus has gathered a people to reign with him, like him, and for him over his creation (King and a Kingdom). Jesus has created a people for himself, a community through which we are being shaped.

I got a glimpse of that this past Sunday. Lydia and I had debated whether or not to bring Trystan into the service, but we are always looking for appropriate opportunities for Trystan to be molded by gathered worship.

We decided to bring him to the service. It was going to be a more casual atmosphere with lots of music. So, we took the risk of him sitting with us, even though we might have had to take him out. There was once or twice that he said something out loud between the songs, but 99.9% of the time he was cool. And the best part of all was when we were singing.

He watched wide-eyed and mouth open while everyone around him belted out gospel songs and lifted their hands to the Creator. Lydia and I took turns holding him as he leaned forward with his chest firmly planted in our hands his eyebrows as high as his little forehead could push them. Then, somewhere during the choruses of “Holy” he joined in. He focused his 6 month-old face and just started making a joyful noise! He smacked his mouth, and filled his lungs with baby-praise.

It was in that moment of spontaneous joy and awe that I realized: the church already molds his behavior. His young humanity is wobbling in the current of God’s people- a people being transformed. In that moment I was reminded of how essential it is for us to be in the midst of a body of followers bigger than just my family. And I take hope that someday, during a song, a prayer, a sermon, or an act of service, that he finds himself giving his breath in a “hallelujah” to the Lord from a heart of faith.

Ryan Donell, Grace Student Ministry

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Passion Week Parent Take Home

In case you missed this weekend or have misplaced the Passion Week handout from this Sunday, we have made it available on our website.

Praying you have time this week to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Christ this week and have an opportunity to share it with your family.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why I as a Christian celebrate the Passover - Part III

This is the final of three posts on the Passover Seder, written by Amy Ramseur, a member of our church and volunteer in Children's Ministry. Here is Part I and Part II if you have not yet read them.

Aspecial series of questions are asked by the youngest child at the table. Answers are given and a traditional song is sung, "Dayenu", meaning "it would have been sufficient". All of this was intended to teach the children and remind the adults of the Israelites’ bondage and redemption.

The second cup, the Cup of Praise, is raised and consumed with a toast of thanksgiving to God and the recitation of a portion of the Hallel, which means "praise", Psalm 113 and 114.
What follows next is a prayer of thanksgiving for the bread and the Lord’s commandment to eat it, then a piece of mazto is eaten. Next the host instructs everyone to make a sandwich of sorts, using matzo, the sweet charoseth mixture, and the bitter herbs (horseradish)…this is traditionally called the "sop". It was at this point that Jesus spoke sober words to His disciples, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me…He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped [it]. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave [it] to Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon." John 13:21, 26 (KJV).
At this point, the Seder pauses while a banquet is served. Rich foods, from appetizers to desserts – all without leaven – are enjoyed.
Finally, it is time for the search for the aphikomen! Jewish tradition holds that the aphikomen should be the final portion of the meal, in memory of the Passover lamb. In Temple times the roasted lamb was the last to be eaten. Since the destruction of the Temple, sacrifices are no longer a part of Jewish life. But every Jew longs for the Temple to be rebuilt so that the sacrificial system can be restored. And so the aphikomen is eaten as a memorial. To believers, it is eaten as a memorial to the Final Passover Lamb, our Risen Savior!
So the final taste of food in the disciples’ mouths should have been the roasted lamb.  However, Jesus, not surprisingly, breaks with tradition. It is at this point that Jesus holds up a piece of matzo, pierced and striped, and breaks it. "Take and eat; this is my body." Matthew 26:26. How fascinating to me is the tradition of the aphikomen that has come to
be in Jewish Seders. It has nothing to do with the Messiah, and yet it points directly to Him in deeply symbolic ways.
Finally, Jesus, as in the ancient Seder as well as in the modern, raises the third cup, known as the Cup of Redemption, offers thanksgiving to God the Father, and tells His disciples, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins." Matthew 26:27-28
A fourth cup traditionally follows, called by some the Cup of Elijah. Others refer to it as the Cup of Hope, while some may call it the Cup of Acceptance.
May we accept the Body broken as payment for our sins and the Blood spilled for our redemption. And may we find the Gospel written between the lines of the traditions, ancient and modern, of the Passover Meal. Jesus chose His Father’s ancient ritual, something so familiar to His followers, to help them remember and pass on to generations to come the new covenant He was about to make: He would give His life as a ransom for many and give eternal life to all who believe.
Do this in remembrance of Me.